It was inevitable, right? It was our honeymoon. One of us had to get hit by a car. That I was the one, not Karen, does not surprise me at all. I only see this now, looking back. I’m crossing the street. I hardly look. I resemble my father, Ira, who was voted “Most Likely to Get Hit by a Car” in his high school yearbook. And my father, a tall, prominent man, has been hit by cars before, one time a school bus.
I was on my way to buy oranges. I was standing on the curb, day-dreaming (about eating an orange in bed, slice by slice, my new wife happily dozing next to me) when I sort of just stepped onto the street, and KABOOM!
“Oh no,” I screamed.
“Oh no,” as I was launched, unpleasantly, into the pavement.
“Oh no,” as my foot, which until then had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with a leather beach sandal, rolled under the wheel of a tiny red coupe.
Oh no, oh no, oh no: three times, in quick succession, each a bit more panicky than the last.
The tiny red coupe stopped. I was on the pavement, looking up, somewhat embarrassed.
I mean, what kind of guy screams, Oh no like that?
A small crowd assembled. Two women, both stunned and extremely pretty, leaped from the tiny red coupe, and pushed through the crowd.
“Dios mio!” they gasped.
And the really pretty one, the driver I guess, sensed something unique about me-had she heard me scream, Oh no?-because she did not address me next in Catalan, or even Spanish (I mean we were in Barcelona and I’ve been told before, I look Spanish) but instead shrieked in English, “Are you alive?”
Which was very unsettling.
Maybe she meant, “Are you alright?”
My back hurt, and my foot and my head. But death? I couldn’t help but affirm what had seemed obvious until that point. I stood up.
“I’m alive,” I said.
The crowd dispersed. I caught the eye of a fit guy on a ten-speed bicycle; riding away, he looked disappointed. I was alone with the two women. I was alive. When my father was hit by the bus he called it The Uppercut. This was more Punch-Buggy.
“Where’s your foot?” the other one asked.
I noticed she really wasn’t pretty at all.
“Does this hurt?” the driver said, leaning down towards me, gently, touching my naked foot.
I wanted to say, “Yes, it hurts .”
I wanted to say this just to please her.
But then she said, “Let’s go to the hospital,” and I imagined my life soaring away into a foreign oblivion. It was only the second day of my honeymoon and I had not oriented myself to the city. Don’t ask me why, but here in Barcelona, the most cosmopolitan of Spanish cities, a city I had lived in in my early-twenties, I imagined a sort of military atmosphere, a large, foursquare room, uniformly uncomfortable beds, patients dying. We were staying at a friend’s flat on Sepulveda, but I didn’t know the street name at the time, and I definitely didn’t know the number. What if I had to stay at the foreign hospital? What about my new wife, who at that moment was sitting on a plaza nearby filming a flamenco street performance? She’d wonder where I was. She’d look for me. Maybe she’d find my beach sandal and freak. Maybe she’d find nothing and freak. Possibly, we’d meet up, days later.
“No,” I said.
I could’ve asked the far less pretty one to find Karen. I could’ve waited with the driver. We could’ve talked about ourselves. I could’ve voyaged to the hospital with three woman, two strangers and a wife, each one asking in her own way, “Does that hurt?” Really, though, I just wanted to see my wife.
And that’s what I said. “I want to see my wife.”
The ugly one lit a cigarette.
“Are you so sure?” she said.
“I’m sure,” I said.
Now here’s what bothers me. Next, instead of making my way to Karen, I limped across the street and staggered into the fruit market. I browsed the fruit bins, feeling immensely sorry for myself. I was, actually, dying, as I learned a few days later, and I guess I was already feeling a little spooky. I thought of our wedding night, how I vomited in the bushes, and then we lounged, as newlyweds, in a broken hammock. I wanted to get better, but I also wanted to get worse, to keep Karen forever leaning over me, rubbing my shoulders, and whispering, “Is that better?”
I bought my oranges, re-crossed the street, and made my way back to the plaza I’d left maybe ten minutes earlier. My sleeves were shredded, my remaining sandal no longer fit right. I turned up some alley, passed a gelato shop, which smelled like coconut, limped down a narrow, secret street, under an arch leading onto a plaza, and there was Karen, the loveliest women I’d ever seen, peering through our digital camera, and I corrected my limp although it hurt.
What would I tell her?
Perhaps I’d tell her I bought the most spectacular oranges. I’d already tasted one and it was delicious. She saw me and smiled, her adorable Karen-smile, so giving, and I felt a pain in my heart. Perhaps I would tell her nothing. At last, when my thin shadow spread across the pavement where she was sitting, she looked up, frowned a bit, and said, “What took you so long?”
“I was hit by a car.”
I pointed to my one foot, deserted, trampled. She burst into tears.
We sat, on the plaza, clutching each other. Karen was afraid to let me go and I was afraid to let her go. What other scary thing might happen?
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” Karen asked.
Have you read Frank O’Hara’s poem about Lana Turner? “Lana Turner has collapsed!” My favorite lines in all of American poetry:
“I have been to lots of parties/ and acted perfectly disgraceful/ but I never actually collapsed.”
What kind of person gets hit by a car on their honeymoon? Sitting there, I remember thinking: this whole incident seems to prove on some level that I am incompetent. I looked at my new wife, at the slender profile of her face, the tears marking her cheeks, her lovely pecas, which is Spanish for “freckles.”
I remember little of the days after I was hit by the tiny red coupe.
I remember the streets we walked from the metro to the beach. I remember reading lunch menus on the chalkboards. I remember a guy on the beach balancing doughnuts on a plank on his head. One evening, Karen dragged me from the metro station on her back to the flat on Sepulveda. I’m dying, I remember feeling.
My courage, or stupidity, still surprises me. I refused to give it much thought. I had already done enough to ruin our honeymoon.
One morning I looked in the mirror and noticed my ribs pulsating around my abdomen. I was thirsty, unimaginably thirsty, as if a vacuum were sucking the water out of my body. Whatever was happening was undeniable.
So I asked my new wife to call the doctor. One hour later, nearly dead, I was rushed to the ER, where I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. They hooked me up to a tube of insulin the size of a bomb. It was called “La bomba.” At night, after visiting hours had ended, Karen would go home to the flat on Sepulveda alone. I can see her now, standing on the balcony, surrounded by a prolific breed of plants, looking out to the building across the courtyard, looking up to the ridiculous sky.
I stayed in the hospital for six days.
The fact that all this happened during my honeymoon depressed me for months.
To get hit by a car on your honeymoon is not good. To enter the hospital, nearly dead, on your honeymoon, is worse. I had given a vow a month before, to have Karen as my wife, to live together in marriage, to love her, to comfort her, to honor her and keep her, in sickness and health, in sorrow and joy, and to be faithful to her, as long as we both shall live. With this vow comes an unspoken promise, one that a young guy might feel obliged to ignore: to stay alive. It’s important not to die. Beyond the grandiose gestures of wedding vows, the most human thing a couple can do together is survive.
It’s rare, I imagine, to receive that sort of lesson on a honeymoon. But I did. We did.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” Karen had asked that night on the plaza.
“Of course not,” I had said.
And so we went off to a little restaurant in El Raval. It was our honeymoon, after all. I remember devouring my monkfish paella. I remember looking at my wife, how she dissected a plate of prawns in a silence she broke only to ask for more wine. I remember the wine, the tang of cheap rioja, the two bottles we swilled out of sheer joy.